Tuesday 8 August 2023

Thomas Tallis If ye love me

These reflections on repertoire appear as I start my second season as Musical Director of Madrid International Choir in September 2023

                                                                Thomas Tallis  

This short, exquisitely beautiful piece has become a favourite during our first season and we will keep it in our repertoire for our second season and surely beyond.

Tallis is a fascinating character whose long life 1505-1585 spanned the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I, a period of profound change in England.

Tallis was brought up in the Catholic faith and when the country officially adopted the Protestant faith his work in the Chapel Royal required him to follow the rules of the new faith in his professional role. It is widely accepted that he stayed true to his beliefs in the “old” religion, as did his colleague William Byrd, but the fact that they both remained in favour and in employment with the royal court shows that they were discreet in practising their faith.

The leaders of the Protestant church imposed new restrictions which directly affected Tallis. Latin was dropped and music was to be set to English texts. This is no small matter because Latin makes greater use of vowel sounds while English uses more consonants, so the former tends to make a more lyrical setting of words to music.

Another imposition was the setting of one syllable to a single note, rather than setting a syllable over several notes. The limitations of expression are easy to imagine and easy to hear when we listen to contemporary composers from, say, Italy. 

Finally, Tallis was confined to certain themes and forbidden from others, such as any references to the Virgin Mary.

There was a period of respite for Tallis when Mary I reintroduced the Catholic faith, only for Protestant practices to be restored by Elizabeth I.

Tallis left a considerable number of compositions for us to admire and enjoy. In contrast to the simplicity of If ye love me, look up Spem in Alium, a hugely complex piece for forty individual singing lines.

You can hear a fragment of If ye love me on our Facebook post on 30/6/23

If you would like to join us to sing this and other music, see our Facebook page and get in touch: Season Two rehearsals start on Thursday 7 September 2023

Engraving by Niccolò Haym after a portrait by Gerard van der Gucht - The Musical Times (1913) H.W. Gray, New York; Novello, London (https://doi-org.wikipedialibrary.idm.oclc.org/10.2307/907708), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101138568

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